March 13, 2008 / 9:55 PM / 11 years ago

Trinidad steel workers protest over money

PORT OF SPAIN, March 13 (Reuters) - A trade union representing workers in Trinidad employed by the world’s biggest steel maker Arcelor Mittal ISPA.AS threatened on Thursday to intensify a protest over compensation.

The workers say Arcelor was supposed to establish an Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) under an agreement with the government when it bought the formerly state-owned steel company 14 years ago.

“Yesterday we shut down production, today workers used their lunch time to protest and they will do so until we decide to step up the pressure and take further action against Mittal,” Philip Sancho, secretary general of the Steel Workers Union, told Reuters.

Sancho said that, since the beginning of the year, workers have been protesting during their lunch breaks.

He said that when the government sold the Iron and Steel Company to Mittal, 40 percent of the shares were to be listed on the local stock exchange. Ten percent of those shares were supposed to be held in an employee share ownership plan.

The union estimates the value of the 40 percent shareholding was between $300 million to $350 million.

Junior Finance Minister Mariano Browne said he does not think an ESOP was ever set up by Mittal.

“I don’t think they’ve set up the ESOP for one reason or the other. I think this goes back to six or seven years ago,” Browne told reporters.

Browne said the company argued that incentive bonuses were distributed in full. Under normal employee share purchase schemes, workers might have been able to convert the incentive bonuses into shares.

Arcelor Mittal spokesman Fazad Mohammed said the company would continue talking with the workers in the hope of reaching an amicable agreement. (Editing by Michael Christie)

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